Vols may 'chuck it' this Fall

Phillip Fulmer has a soft spot in his heart for the ground game, but he says Tennessee's football team won't hesitate to put the ball in the air this fall.

''A lot of what we will do depends on how defenses try to defend us,'' Fulmer said. ''We don't want to run uphill too much. If we've got seven blockers and they've got eight or nine defenders packing it in, we're going to chuck it ... probably chuck it to Kelley Washington if we can.''

Washington, of course, is the key to Tennessee's passing attack. He caught a team-high 64 balls for a team-high 1,010 yards last fall as a true freshman and is sure to get a lot of double-coverage this fall.

''We want to keep Kelley Washington healthy,'' Fulmer said. ''I'll be surprised if he doesn't get a lot of passes thrown his way. Well move him around so people can't pick on him. It was amazing what he accomplished last year.''

What follows are Fulmer's comments on other topics:

HELP FROM FRESHMEN

The head man described this year's rookies as ''a good-looking bunch of freshmen,'' adding that he expects several to contribute immediately.

''We hope Aaron Kirkland can give us some help at tight end," he said. ''It's vital to have somebody behind Witten we can count on. There are several linemen who look like they can help.

''At receiver, we're looking for that 'other guy.' Jonathan Wade and Chris Hannon have shown maturity as well as talent at receiver, where we are looking for another guy to step up.

''On the defensive line, we will look for some fifth and sixth players to man those positions. There are three nice-looking linebackers we hope can at least play on special teams early in the season.''

Quarterback James Banks is a quality athlete but the adjustment from high school to college is bigger at quarterback than at any other position.

''James Banks is a willing worker who hasn't needed to work that hard in the past,'' Fulmer said. ''He may be in for a shock out there.''

Perhaps the most impressive rookie in early workouts has been James Wilhoit. He is competing on three fronts — placements, kickoffs and punting.

''The young kicker has done nothing but impress us,'' Fulmer said. ''We are excited about him both long term and short term.''

THE TAILBACK DERBY

Sophomores Jabari Davis, Cedric Houston and Derrick Tinsley continue their battle for the No. 1 tailback job but it appears that senior Troy Fleming is gaining ground fast along the rail. Fleming was the starting fullback last fall but performed well in one-back sets and could figure in the tailback derby this fall.

''The key to the backs is Troy Fleming,'' Fulmer said.

As for the sensational sophomores, the coach added: ''Well put the young running backs out there and see how they mix. They've all made contributions, but much of it has been in mop-up situations. We need toughness and maturity.... They haven't done it in a game with any consistency yet. They haven't been asked to. I think they'll be fine.''

Davis (6-0, 235) and Houston (6-0, 217) fit the mold of recent power backs such as Jamal Lewis and Travis Henry. Tinsley (6-0, 195) is more in the mold of Travis Stephens. Tinsley is an intriguing prospect because he is blessed with breakaway speed and superior receiving skills.

''Derrick Tinsley wants to play tailback, and we want him to,'' Fulmer noted, ''but he'll probably work half the time on the outside (at receiver).''

Asked what he sees for heralded freshman tailback Gerald Riggs, Jr., Fulmer replied, ''I see him having to earn his time. He has the talent. He's a very gifted guy. I saw that on high school film. He's mature beyond his years. I'm anxious to see him on the field.''


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